Friday, October 24, 2014

On Biblical Mysticism and Quiet Times

Tim Keller has a new book on prayer coming out soon, and I can't wait to read it. The quote below is from an interview by Matt Smethurst with Keller about the book and the topic of prayer.
You argue for a “radically biblical mysticism” a la John Owen and Jonathan Edwards—or what John Murray called an “intelligent mysticism.” How should we view the intersection between theology and experience when we’re on our knees?
Biblical meditation means, first, to think out your theology. (That means having it clearly in your mind. Know what you believe.) Second, it means to work in your theology. (That means self-communion, talking to yourself. For example, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” It is asking yourself, “How would I be different if I took this theological truth seriously? How would it change my attitudes and actions if I really believed this from the bottom of my heart?”) Third, it means topray up your theology. (That means turning your theology into prayer, letting it trigger adoration, confession, and supplication.) Do those things, and your theology will intersect with your experience. 
In what ways is our evangelical concept of a “quiet time” lacking? 
Most conceptions of the evangelical “quiet time,” at least as I was instructed in them, tended to focus mostly on inductive Bible study. So it was more information-driven and less oriented toward communion with God. However, in reaction, we see lots of people talking about lectio divina—which can be defined in a lot of ways.
But I’ve often heard it described as reading the Bible not for theological truth, but in order to “hear a personal word from God.” The trouble is that you hear what God is saying to you in any particular place by discerning the text’s theological meaning. You can’t be sure that anything that happens to hit you that day is God speaking to you in the Bible. Yet if you spend all your devotional time using commentaries and other texts to figure out a passage, it takes up all the time and energy, and your prayer time is often perfunctory.
I’ve concluded that most people should set aside regular time in which we are studying the Bible, seeking to understand its meaning. Then, out of this study, we should choose passages to meditate on during our times of prayer. Martin Luther and John Owen believed (rightly) that before prayer it was important to meditate on biblical truths until our affections and hearts were as deeply engaged as possible. I find that their instructions on communion with God fit in with neither the typical evangelical “quiet time” nor the new emphasis on lectio divina
The entire interview is well worth a read.